Shouts of jubilation rang through our nation’s streets, Saturday evening, as the Liberia Broadcasting System announced the goal that sealed the Lone Star’s victory against Tunisia. Later, ecstatic fans lined the streets from downtown Monrovia, down ELWA highway, cheering our heroes on as they made their way to the Executive Lodge. This was, indeed, a proud moment for our nation; and a much needed stimulant after Ebola’s devastation.
But is that all it was meant to be? Should we just rejoice for now, and then return to our losing streak?
The answer is up to us. We begin with the team itself. James “Salinsa” Debbah, one of Liberia’s football greats who played alongside George Weah in the 1980s, proved his star power once again as the Lone Star’s coach. Rather than resting on his laurels, he would do well to continue challenging his team to strive for excellence.
During his phone interview with this newspaper, he urged the Government to increase financial support to the team. We agree; but even the largest endowment will not suffice to motivate this team. They need more than money. They need discipline, confidence, and a sense of patriotism – qualities money cannot hope to buy.
Depending on Government funds as an ‘incentive’ to perform is unacceptable. Many of the great athletes who ever played any sport anywhere, started off as kids in poor neighborhoods, playing and winning –without money, but with a whole lot of heart. That is how they caught the notice of scouts in their locales.
Yes, these are grown men with families to support; they need to make a living, and they deserve our respect. But they must also recognize that the impact of their success or failure cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The overwhelming national pride and joy – the feeling that (for once) we are not failures – is priceless. And for Debbah to let his players get hung up on the money is akin to a father spoiling his sons with money instead of instilling in them character. These men need to know that they do not work for the Government; they work for the four million Liberians at home and abroad, most of whom cannot afford to pay them a dime, but who desperately need the boost in morale that comes from the team’s victories.
Lone Star needs to stay focused and humble, and to fight and win. They need to remember that, as long as the game is not over, they cannot get distracted and risk losing or drawing; we simply deserve better than the mediocrity that they have served us in the past. We want to at least see them attend the opening of the next World Cup, instead of us feeling like a ‘poopoo platoon’ every four years and rooting instead for our neighbors (God bless them). But only character can get them there.
We cannot, however, deny that the Government has done poorly by the Lone Star. Bility’s poor leadership, the funding gap, and the poor coaches, have all contributed to weakness of our team.
GOL has, in the past, hired foreign coaches who did not understand our unique Liberian mentality and who, therefore, could not activate the winning spirit in our team. Hiring Debbah as coach is a redeeming factor in this entire saga. We just hope that, having begun to prove his worth, the Government will afford him all the support he needs.
Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh, an avid footballer himself, is no doubt aware of the impact of adequate financing on professional players’ performance – we hear he played college ball. Bu his perspective should be much broader. As the UNMIL drawdown raises security concerns in a country whose major threat is internal, Konneh should recognize that investment in a football team that all citizens of a divided country can rally around can only help to ease tensions. His response, under the President’s leadership, must be to provide sufficient and consistent funding to the national team. The Legislature, with George Weah’s push, should support this effort. We cannot treat our players the way the donors often treat us – a dollar today and a penny tomorrow. Remember, predictability is critical to aid effectiveness.
Last but not least, the Liberian people must also respond correctly to this victory. We must evaluate our own personal and collective performance, and aim higher. We cannot continue in mediocrity; because our communities are counting on our success, which gives them permission and courage to excel. Our response must, therefore, be to follow the Lone Star. Shine a light into the darkness around us and, thereby, inspire others to shine too.
Thank you, Lone Star, for shining so bright! You have done us proud. Next time, shoot for 5-0; we will accept nothing less.